From the installation of an irrigation system to its maintenance, if you’re outsourcing any of these tasks to an independent contractor, you’re giving away an ancillary profit center. And whether we’re in times of economic uncertainty or growth, additional cash flow is always a good thing. Offering a complete array of irrigation services could be a growth area that will breathe new life into your business, along with putting money in your bank account.
If you’re considering offering irrigation services to your clients but don’t know where to begin, a good starting point is a maintenance service contract. For an annual fee, you would go out at regularly scheduled intervals to inspect their irrigation system.
In cold weather areas, many contractors offer annual maintenance contracts that include a spring turn-on and a winterization where water is blown out of the system; some contractors add two mid-season inspections. In warmer weather markets, few landscape contractors offer regular maintenance service. Maybe it’s because they don’t see the need. After all, you wouldn’t winterize an irrigation system in warmer climates, so what is there to do?
After all, a system that operates year-round is in much more need of attention and maintenance than a system that is shut down from late fall to early spring. Sprinkler heads in constant use are easily damaged or misaligned by lawn mowers, people, and other mishaps. As the seasons change, the irrigation needs of a landscape change accordingly. Rain sensors should be working properly. Controllers have to be reprogrammed to minimize water usage.
And that’s just the maintenance of the system!
If repairs are necessary you can provide them as well, at an additional cost. The key word is necessary. Honesty is always the best policy. Don’t sell a customer a repair the system doesn’t need. Trust goes a long way in building a large, loyal client base.
The profit to be made from offering annual maintenance contracts is money on the table waiting for someone to take home. If you’re already performing landscape maintenance for a customer, that someone is you.
The beauty of offering maintenance contracts to existing clients is that it adds no appreciable cost to your operating budget. As their landscape contractor, your foot is already in the door. You already have a crew going to the site on a regular basis. Now what you need to do is sell the service. Usually all it takes is one system failure for a customer to see the wisdom in purchasing a maintenance contract.
The larger the system, the more likely it is that a customer will purchase an irrigation maintenance contract. You’re getting paid to take care of it, to make sure the system is working properly, that they’re not overwatering or underwatering; you’ll take care of it so they won’t have to worry about it.
Of course, you need to know something about irrigation systems before attempting to fix one. Training workers you already have on the payroll helps you avoid the expense of hiring a special crew and it’s a cost-effective way to jumpstart your foray into irrigation services. More than likely, your irrigation supply house will be happy to assist you in that area.
You can also take it slowly. If you’re not ready, you probably shouldn’t attempt to offer a complete array of irrigation services overnight. Offer only the services you can handle. That way, you avoid financing any huge capital investment. As the irrigation business grows, it can finance its own expansion.
Still, some landscape contractors prefer to sub-contract irrigation services to another company. Your organization may fit into that category. It’s a sentiment echoed by several landscape contractors we spoke with, and it’s understandable. There’s a natural reluctance to branch off into unfamiliar territory. And if you’re happy with the income your company generates, why fix it if it isn’t broken?
That’s when you have to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit that first motivated you to go into business for yourself. You took a chance and succeeded. If growth and increased income are part of your business plan, irrigation services are a perfect fit. It’s really not that much of a departure from what you’re already doing.
For Donna Vignocchi, of ILT Vignocchi, Chicago, Illinois, branching out into irrigation services wasn’t just good business sense, it was a matter of practicality. “We’re in a very competitive market, where we’re dealing with very high-end residential and commercial customers. When there’s a problem, they want someone there immediately. It’s very difficult getting a subcontractor to be there when you want him to be there.”
Finding a reliable irrigation subcontractor became a problem, so ten years ago, her company went into the irrigation business for themselves. As a design/build company, they take a project from infancy through the final product. Before any plants, sod or fine grading touch the ground, Vignocchi’s crews install an irrigation system. “If we have it in-house, we can control that the installation crews are going to be there when we need them. Our jobs can continue forward with both quality and profit being at a higher level.”
Irresponsible sub-contractors weren’t what motivated Becker Landscape Contractors of Indianapolis, Indiana, to start offering irrigation services. It was a desire to offer more services to their customers. Fifteen years ago, the company hired a sub-contractor to do its irrigation work. Now the company does it all in-house. Forty percent of the company’s business is now generated by the irrigation division. Of that work, 75 percent is installation, 25 percent service and maintenance.
Offering a complete array of irrigation services keeps your customers from going elsewhere with their money. It’s called one-stop shopping, a concept that works for large retailers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot, and it can work for you. The less customers have to shop around, the more time they can spend running their business. By providing your customers with onestop shopping, you can increase the amount of money they’ll spend with you.
Keeping more money in your hands is always good business sense; controlling the image your company projects is common sense. Most every business and homeowner has his or her horror tale of the contractor from hell. You don’t want your company to be the protagonist in that drama. While you can pretty much control what your company does at the jobsite, much of what sub-contractors do is out of your hands. Sure, if they mess up, you will never use them again, but the damage has already been done.
Say you’re doing a job for a client and you’ve hired a sub-contractor. You’re facing an absolute deadline, a day the job has to be completed. The sub-contractor knows the situation. But something comes up and the crew he hired doesn’t complete the job on time. You’ve just lost that client.
“Anybody that you sub-contract with when you’re in a service busi ness, whatever they do, or don’t do will leave an impression upon your client,” says Vignocchi. “We want to control that impression.”
Leaving a good impression is the main reason why many contractors don’t sub-contract out the work, especially when dealing with the residential sector. A residential customer purchases you; the employee you send to the job is your company’s public face. The rapport your employee establishes with your client is probably as important as the job he does. By developing a long-term, open relationship, you will benefit in the long run in terms of your customer relationship, and keeping that customer.
Offering customers an array of irrigation services also opens the door for emerging fields that could prove to be yet another source of revenue you haven’t tapped. One of those is landscape lighting, another could be rainwater harvesting.
Consider it a service module of your business. You make money at it, and it’s keeping your customers happy. As long as the demand is there, it’s something you can offer, and it’s profitable.
Water conservation is emerging as another source of income for the savvy landscape professional. Water purveyors throughout the country continue to put restrictions on water usage. With the price of water skyrocketing, consumers will demand more efficient irrigation systems. Restrictions on water usage, in turn, make the knowledgeable irrigation service provider a valuable commodity.
Whether you’re dealing with commercial or residential clients, it’s important to remember you’re providing a service in a competitive market. You want to set yourself apart from your competition. Offering a complete array of irrigation services is one way to stand out among the crowd. Getting customers in the door is half the battle; the other half is keeping them.
That’s where service enters the equation. Stay ahead of the game, address issues before they become problems. A customer wants to know that things are being taken care of. The fewer problems a customer has, the happier he or she will be. And a happy customer is a return customer.